An anonymous poster admonished this blog for being “pro-government and pro-Da’wa” for not covering the reactions to the Wikileak release or the Transparency International corruption findings. I am not sure that attack was completely warranted (see Mousa’s latest entry), but these are two topics I have personally been following closely since they broke, and wrote a piece about the Wikileaks for my company, here.
For those who haven’t heard, Transparency International released its latest Corruption Perception Index, a yearly project that attempts to rank all the world’s countries based on how corrupt they are perceived to be. Unsurprisingly, Iraq ranked 175th out of 178 countries. While I have certain reservations on the methodology TI uses in its study, corruption in Iraq, and perhaps just as important, the perception of corruption in Iraq, is clearly out of hand. Corruption is rampant, and is visible not only in all echelons of government, but also across Iraq’s society. This obviously has a whole bunch of negative implications; Iraq’s resources are being mis-allocated at a time when ordinary people are screaming out for basic services. It is also keeping businesses away, a recent study carried out by the EIU suggests that corruption was the second most pervasive concern among investors/would be investors doing business in Iraq. What’s more, there seems to be very little being done about it.
A while back, I wrote my Master’s dissertation on the impact of sanctions of Iraq’s society, economy and politics. It became more and more clear to me the more I read that it was that decade, a decade in which Iraq’s middle-classes were virtually destroyed, that has left a legacy that will hinder Iraq’s future development. The imposition of sanctions, and the subsequent pauperisation of vast swathes of Iraqi society led to a change in the moral and ethical outlook of a population who now felt that survival was the key factor behind the decisions they make. Bribes oiled the cogs of virtually every routine service provided by officials, who sought to supplement their paltry salaries through money extracted in corrupt practices…and who can blame them? But it is this particular legacy of the sanctions that has been especially resilient, even to this very day. The roots of corruption, the mindset required for its manifestation and fermentation, have been engrained in the psyche. Cynicism and distrust were the two most necessary traits required for survival during Saddam’s years in power, and they endure to this day. Unfortunately, this cynicism, and the entire ethical code that allowed Iraqis to survive the hardships are the antithesis of what is required to rebuild the country now.
As for the higher-level corruption among government ministers, deputy ministers, director generals etc. I think most of that can be blamed on pure greed. But beyond bureaucratic, financial corruption, the Wikileaks documents really highlighted the level of moral degradation in some of the very officials that are meant to be serving the countries. One case, which really jumped out at me (dated: 2008-02-10 07:49:00) details how a high-level Ministry of Health official, who was himself employed by a Director General at the ministry, was arrested for providing lists of female patients to terrorist groups, who would then recruit these sick women for suicide operations. Its bad enough pilfering funds from ministry coffers, but here, an official that is supposed to be working to improve a dilapidated health infrastructure and the health of Iraqi civilians, is actively seeking to spread terror and destruction, using patients at government hospitals as his weapon. Greed cannot be enough to explain such depravity…surely it points to something much more serious and much more enduring than that.
I should mention, the TI rankings should not be taken as gospel. Ali Mawlawi wrote an excellent piece in Open Democracy on the problems with the way these rankings are compiled. But reservations on the methodology aside, corruption is and endemic problem in Iraq that needs concerted efforts by the government and civil society organisation to be made, targeting government institutions and public perception. But can such an effort be carried out in a political-economic system that that seems to breed patronage and fiefs?